In the Name of Smelling Good, I Have Proudly Represented the American People

Henrietta Conrad - Brazil

March 7, 2012

“You know, you’re not like the other Americans.”

I looked up from brushing my wet, clean hair. My older host cousin, Iarema, was standing on the other side of the living room, one hand placed lightly on her thrust out hip. Her eyebrows were furrowed as if she was trying to solve a puzzle and her mouth was shaped into a goofy half smile.

I knew Iarema had met a fair share of Americans. This area was not touristy but because of a certain network, American college students, anthropologists, and professors came here to do research. I quickly raked my brain as to all the possibilities she could be referring to. I held my breath. Was this it? The fellows were told in the Global Citizen Year orientation that in our actions and with our words we would be representing not only the program but our mighty country: The United States of America. We were told that we would have the opportunity to change, preferably for the better, the international perception of our country and the stereotypes that come with being American. This is a hefty responsibility. Oh yes, I deduced, this was my moment of truth.

“Oh?” I replied nonchalantly, “Mmm, Why’s that?”

“Well,” She cocked her head to the side, “You take baths the right way, diretinho.”

Let me preface this with saying that I take showers alone in the privacy of the bathroom.

Pause. I didn’t understand where this was coming from nor did I know how to respond. Now it was my turn to furrow my eyebrows.

“Umm, and the other Americans don’t?”

“No…” and then she plunged into a windy explanation about Americans skipping days to take showers, not washing their hair, and her suspicion that some don’t scrub their feet with soap.

I never thought of Americans as being ‘stinky’ but I was glad to know that I take showers up to her standards even if that was not the answer I was hoping for or expecting. I sighed and went back to brushing my hair. So, I hadn’t broken one of the American stereotypes but at least I smelled good and that’s a good start in a new country.

Henrietta Conrad